Jacksonville business icon and community leader Bill McRae died Wednesday at the age of 78.
Known for more than civic responsibility, McRae was a leader in his church, in his profession and in positions he held as a board member in several academic and banking institutions.
McRae’s record stands for respect, integrity and commitment, according to many who knew him.
A certificate presented to McRae after serving on the board of Austin Bank for 22 years honors the director for his commitment, citing his service as a “shining example of the American way of life.”
The owner of Bill McRae Ford, McRae moved to Jacksonville in 1976 after purchasing the Ford dealership. Prior to the purchase, he had served as a banker in Galveston and before that, in Carrollton.
“He was always a personal banker,” his daughter, Tam Clark, said. “He felt it was his honor and responsibility to take care of customers and widows.
“When he was a banker in Galveston, two of his customers passed away within a short time of each other. They were partners, and their widows were left with the Ford dealership the pair owned. My dad called Ford to ask if he could help her turn the dealership around, and they were able to come out okay.
“He enjoyed it so much, and it worked out so well, he decided to change careers,” Clark said.
Following his move to Jacksonville, McRae quickly became involved in community affairs, serving on numerous committees. He was a member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, and in October, was named an Honorary Lifetime Member because of his many years of service to that organization and the Economic Development Corporation, and was also previously named Business Man of the Year.
Although McRae left the banking profession to open the Ford dealership, he remained active in banking affairs. He served as a director of First National Bank, which was later named Austin Bank, from 1987 until 2008.
He was a majority stockholder in Lone Oak State Bank near Greenville, which was sold to a third-party investor in the mid-90s, Jeff Austin said. Austin was a partner with Mr. McRae and others in the bank’s ownership.
His community involvement also included his service for many years as a board member for ACCESS, the mental health/mental retardation entity that includes help to clients in Cherokee and Anderson counties.
As a Ford dealer, McRae also served on the Dealer’s Advertising Fund for Greater Texas board for many years, Tim McRae said.
He also served in earlier years as a member of the Texas Army National Guard, and he was proud of his service, his family noted.
The father of five, McRae was active in his children’s education. He served on the Galveston Independent School District school board during a time of unrest in the 1960s.
Two of his daughters, and a grandson, attended Dallas Baptist College (which was later named Dallas Baptist University), and he served as a board member of that institution for many years.
He also later served as a director for Jacksonville College, where Clark now serves as academic dean.
McRae was a member of Central Baptist Church, where he served actively in various roles for many years. A former deacon chairman, he also served as chairman of several search committees involved in bringing new staff members to the church. One of those was Minister of Education/Missions Steve Edwards.
“He was a man of integrity, a man who really loved people,” Edwards said. “I always felt with him, a relationship was more important than trying to sell a car.
“He was dedicated and committed to the Lord and as a result, he was involved in different aspects of the church.”
In addition to his service on the search committees, McRae also served as a trustee of the church, the director of the Adult 5 Sunday School Department, and as a member of the Men’s Stewardship Sunday School Class.
As a member of the Generations Ahead Committee, he helped to raise commitments to fund the building program for the current church facility.
Married for 58 years, McRae and his wife, Mary, instilled in their children the ethics of hard work and dedication. Tim, the couple’s son, is now the owner of Bill McRae Ford, having served as a partner with his parents for the last several years.
While Tam Clark serves at Jacksonville College, her sister, Dr. Kim Childs is the Interim Dean of Science and Mathematics at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches.
Another daughter, Becky Hanna, teaches mathematics at Jacksonville High School, and Dr. Caroline Vogler is a pediatrician in Tyler.
Mary McRae described her husband as a “giant of a man.”
“He was a wonderful husband and father,” she said. “He provided well for his family. We were both most thankful that our entire family members are Christians. We are grateful for the way the Lord has led us through the years, and that He provided a place for us to serve together.
“Sometimes there were big moves to make and we have never been sorry for the decisions we made together.”
In addition to his wife and children, McRae is survived by sons-in-law Gary Childs, David Hanna and Brad Vogler, and daughter-in-law, Dawn McRae; eighteen grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and numerous other family members.
Visitation was Friday at Autry Funeral Home and McRae’s funeral was held at Central Baptist Church on Saturday.